The size of San Diego County’s unmanned aerial vehicle industry doubled over the past five years and could double again as UAVs are increasingly used for everything from spying on suspected terrorists abroad to monitoring the U.S.-Mexico border, says a National University System report released today.
The industry, which is centered in North County, generated at least $1.3 billion locally in 2011 and directly and indirectly supported 7,135 jobs. The report says the true impact could be far higher due to classified programs that are not included in public records.
Most of the business can be tied to two defense giants — Northrop Grumman of Rancho Bernardo, which specializes in Global Hawk UAVs, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of Poway, which is best-known for Predators.
Both companies develop a variety of the so-called drones, primarily for use outside the U.S. by the military and government. The UAVs were extensively used in the Iraq War, and in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. But the UAVs may soon also be used domestically by law enforcement and other agencies, a move that is opposed by many privacy advocates.
Analysts say the global market for such aircraft could exceed $12 billion by 2019.
“This is a dynamic, growing industry, and San Diego has a big opportunity to take advantage of the expected growth,” said Kelly Cunningham, an economist at National’s Institute for Policy Research and lead author of the report.
The study was commissioned by the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce.